Santa Rosa studies annexation of Moorland, other unincorporated areas

The city is weighing annexing areas south of city limits, including Moorland, or all unincorporated land within the urban growth boundary.|

When Esther Lemus and her family moved to the Moorland Avenue neighborhood south of Santa Rosa more than a half-century ago, the area was largely undeveloped with orchards and vacant lots dotting the landscape.

The creek by her home would rise during winter rains, spilling its banks and flooding streets and neighborhood homes, she said.

“We had to put boots on to take our kids to the bus stop and we would carry them in our arms,” the 76-year-old recalled. “It was very bad and every winter when it rained it would happen again and again.”

The neighborhood has grown with the addition of new homes and apartments in the decades since yet it largely remains the same.

Stormwater issues persist and a lack of investment in public infrastructure has led to poorly paved roads, few connected sidewalks and other services expected in urban areas.

That’s something Santa Rosa hopes to address.

City Hall administrators on Jan. 24 presented the council with a plan to annex areas south of city limits and a second option to incorporate all county islands across the city.

The proposals would push the city’s borders to the voter-approved urban growth boundary — near the Santa Rosa Avenue Friedman’s Home Improvement on the south end — and could add up to 11,000 new residents.

It would be the most significant expansion of Santa Rosa’s city limits in at least a generation — larger by size and possibly by population, depending on the favored option, than the 2017 annexation of Roseland. Residents in new incorporated areas would benefit from city police and fire services, broader water and sewer connections and improved public transit.

Preliminary estimates show the process could take 3½ to 4½ years and cost upward of $2 million to complete. Council members would have to balance the effort with competing priorities at a time when city administrators are already projecting a budget deficit.

Council member Eddie Alvarez, whose district includes a large portion of the Roseland area annexed by the city in 2017, said residents in these areas consider themselves Santa Rosans and deserve the same level of service.

However, he acknowledged it will be a heavy lift but said he believes there is council support. The seven-member council directed staff to further study the proposals and come back with a more detailed plan.

“We’re being cautious and rightfully so out of respect to all residents but my colleagues are warm to the idea,” Alvarez said.

Additional information is expected to be presented to the council as part of their goal-setting meeting in March.

“Ultimately, we’re talking about people and these are people who have gone without for so long,” Alvarez said.

Weighing two annexation options

City planning officials presented the council with two annexation options during the two-hour Jan. 24 briefing.

The first calls for annexing 1,400 acres south of city limits from about Bane Avenue in the west to just west of Petaluma Hill Road in the east. The area is about twice the size of the Roseland area annexed in 2017.

The boundaries include the Moorland Avenue neighborhood, Santa Rosa Avenue south of Yolanda Avenue and a largely undeveloped area east of Santa Rosa Avenue where developers are planning housing known as the “Todd Creek” area.

About 6,500 residents live there, according to city data.

Census tract data shows the area is predominantly Hispanic or Latino though the census tracts are larger than the area the city seeks to annex. City officials did not analyze population demographics as part of the report.

Planning and Economic Development Director Clare Hartman described the area as “grossly underplanned,” lacking core services and infrastructure, and said it had long been underrepresented.

A second option would entail annexing all unincorporated areas within the city’s urban growth boundary, including the area south of Santa Rosa limits, an area around Rincon Valley, land east of Skyhawk and the more than 30 county islands across the city.

This would increase the city’s size by about 3,650 acres, or 5.7 square miles, and add nearly 11,000 new residents.

Opportunities for annexation were first discussed by council members during last year’s goal-setting session and there has been interest from property owners in the Todd Creek area, on the east side of Highway 101, to bring their properties into city limits.

Elected officials and management with the city and Sonoma County had an initial meeting last summer to gauge interest and administrators from both governments have continued meeting to discuss what it would take to incorporate.

Major time, financial commitment

Completing the Roseland annexation, which began in 2014, took about 3½ years and cost $2 million, Hartman said.

Annexing the area south of Santa Rosa could take about as long but is expected to be more expensive as Hartman said it’s more complex and the city hasn’t been as engaged with that community.

“Roseland was surrounded by the city limits in the heart of our city so there’s a lot of already embedded mutual understanding and information that we had,” she said. “With south Santa Rosa we have not been engaged.”

The bulk of the work includes negotiating a cost-sharing agreement with Sonoma County, developing a specific plan for the area, a plan for services and conducting an environmental review.

It will also take extensive public input so that residents can help drive the process and “build a vision for how they come into the city and transform the current conditions in that area,” Hartman said.

Annexing all unincorporated areas would require additional needs analysis and public hearings which would add about a year of work.

It likely would also cost more to provide services going forward as infrastructure would need to be brought up to city standards and services would have to be expanded to meet additional needs, Hartman said.

For example, Hartman said the Roseland annexation led to a 10% increase in police calls in the first year, higher than what was projected by the city, which strained department resources. Annexing the area south of city limits would require at least one additional police beat while annexing all unincorporated land would require the city to revise its police staffing requirements.

'Wouldn’t be like the forgotten kid’

Hartman warned that if the city is serious about moving forward with the process it must dedicate time and resources to the effort, including appointing a dedicated city administrator and planner to oversee the plan.

That commitment would have to be balanced with other priorities in the coming years, she said.

The City Council expressed support for the idea but did not take formal action.

Council member Chris Rogers said the city needs to further study the proposal to understand what it would take to annex these areas but said it’s a good opportunity.

“When we talk about Moorland, in particular, it’s a moral imperative” that the city consider annexation seriously, he said. He added that the reason it may not be economically feasible now is a reflection of the disinvestment in that neighborhood over the past several decades.

Alvarez said while work is ongoing in his district to improve services, annexing Moorland and other areas of south Santa Rosa would address the same inequities Roseland long faced.

“When I see Moorland, I see Roseland. It’s a mirror image of what Roseland was and Moorland deserves to be equal,” he said.

He said the task of annexing Roseland seemed insurmountable “and yet here we are and I’m hoping that this is history being repeated but with the knowledge of what worked and what didn’t.”

For Lemus, the discussion represents a chance to bring the neighborhood’s vision for a lively and safe area to reality and an opportunity to have a voice.

Lemus is part of the Moorland Neighborhood Action Team, formed to advocate for improvements in 2014, a year after the death of 13-year-old Andy Lopez, who was fatally shot in the area by a Sonoma County sheriff’s deputy.

Their work has led to streetlights being installed, stop signs being added on Bellevue and Moorland to improve traffic and pedestrian safety, bus stop improvements, among other work.

But more is needed.

There are still parts of the neighborhood without sidewalks or streetlights. Residents have also been asking for increased police presence to address safety concerns, she said.

Lemus said the action team and residents will need to study the city’s proposal but many residents believe annexation would benefit the area.

“I think it would do a lot to improve the area,” she said. “We wouldn’t be like the forgotten kid in the area and people would listen to us more and we would be able to accomplish a lot more.”

Sonoma County Board of Supervisors Chair Chris Coursey, whose district includes Moorland, said he supports annexation efforts.

“It’s a dense urban area whose residents deserve urban services,” he said. “It’s a neighborhood whose residents identify as Santa Rosans, but have no direct representation in the city to which they are attached.”

The area should’ve been included with Roseland when the city annexed that five years ago, he said. He noted the process is complicated and will take planning and financial negotiations.

You can reach Staff Writer Paulina Pineda at 707-521-5268 or On Twitter @paulinapineda22.

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